The First 40 Years
Forty years ago saw a revival of a hobby that was born in Southern California 40 years earlier. Hot rodding started growing in the mid '30s. Interest in going fast in a street car was great, and expansive dry lakes on the edge of the Mojave Desert provided an irresistible playground.

Before long, enthusiasts organized into car clubs. It didn't take long before several clubs formed the Southern California Timing Association (SCTA), with the goal of organizing and promoting their activities. They raced their street cars, driving them to the lakes, and stripping off the windshields, headlights, fenders, and other components to save weight. And they drove them home.

The "need for speed" prompted the need for speed parts, and talented parts builders started businesses selling the speed equipment they developed to other racers. Stu Hilborn, Ed Iskenderian, and Vic Edelbrock are a few of the guys who established the early performance aftermarket. History would repeat itself in the '70s, but we'll get to that.

Hot rodding took a hit in the '40s when America entered World War II. Shortages of supplies and materials, and a large portion of young men entering the military (not all young men were hot rodders but almost all hot rodders were young men), suspended the hobby for a few years. The effect of the war on the hobby is another historical event that would repeat itself.

After the war, hot rodding exploded. Thousands of soldiers returned from overseas, many with mechanical skills learned in the service. Many of those returning servicemen landed in California, where good weather and good jobs were waiting for them.

In the '50s, the racing that was created on the dry lakes turned into an organized, sanctioned sport. There was not much room for cheap, dual/purpose hot rods, and the hobby split in two—rods built for racing and rods built for the street. The term "street rod" was coined, and appearance started to become as important as speed. Competition was not limited to the track. Hot rod and custom car shows made it possible to win an award without even driving your car. The growing number of hot rod and custom car magazines popularized the hobby nationwide and promoted every trend. Movies also played a role in publicizing hot rods—although frequently in a negative way. Television shows did a better job of creating a more appealing image, particularly 77 Sunset Strip, featuring Norm Grabowski's T roadster pickup, forever after famous as the "Kookie Car". Meanwhile, the aftermarket was continuing to grow, getting a big bump with the introduction of the Chevy small-block.

By the '60s, the influence of customs had bled into the hot rod hobby. Paint, powerplants, interiors, and trim got wilder and then went ballistic. ISCA was formed in 1963 to organize the rules of show competition. Builders like Ed Roth, George Barris, Dean Jeffries, and Darryl Starbird were creating extremely modified—even entirely fabricated—rods that would have been unpredictable—and unrecognizable—to the guys running their stripped-down, black roadsters on the dry lakes.

End of an Era
Another war weakened hot rod participation during the '60s when a new generation of enthusiasts-turned-soldiers was sent to Vietnam. This time the effect on the hobby was compounded by two other societal events—the youth movement and the introduction of the muscle car.

The youth movement chilled an enthusiasm for nostalgia in favor of new, modern styles. Muscle cars came along at the right time to take advantage of that. They were youth oriented, and were marketed to the same guys who, a few years earlier, would've built a hot rod. Not only did a new muscle car outperform the old hot rod, it was extensively optioned, reliable, comfortable, fairly cheap, warrantied, required no assembly, and was—most importantly—new.

In 1971, in response to all of this, the executives over at Petersen Publishing Company decided to stop publishing Rod & Custom magazine.

All of this predates the street rod revival and the birth of STREET RODDER magazine, but without this history, what followed, and what we've been doing for 40 years, might never have happened.


Across 49th Street
A few readers squawked in 2007 when we expanded our editorial focus from '48-and-earlier cars to '64-and-earlier, but all SR was doing was returning to its roots. Later cars were part of the original mix and the Across 49th Street column, written by Dain Gingerelli, Steve Coonan, and others, ran from February 1974 until the end of the decade as a celebration of "new" iron.

"I think you guys get the picture, street machines seem to be more fun; cruising around and raising the dust from under the rug. And that's what this column is for. We can talk late-model stuff, and not have to go behind the garage to do it. You got something to say, then send it in, in care of this column, or to me. I'm a personable guy. If you're Italian, I'll even answer the letter right away." —Dain Gingerelli, Across 49th Street, February 1974